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Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Mad Scientists & Monsters: A Glimpse Through the Fog at FCA’s Mysterious Chelsea Proving Grounds

by Nick Smirnis




Like most stories both professional and personal, mine begins with an email. Being a relative newcomer to the Texas Auto Writers Association, I had never received one like this before. Every year Fiat Chrysler America (FCA) sends out an email invitation to a veritable open house for automotive industry media that they vaguely call “What’s New?”  In short, they showcase last year’s favorites alongside the next year’s yet-to-be unveiled “embargoed” vehicles, specifically selected to show off differences between sequential model years. By the time you’re reading this the embargo will be up and you will be among the first to know “What’s New?”

RAM Listens To Its Customers to Deliver on the Details

by Nick Smirnis

The ready out-of-the-box aftermarket look is epitomized by the RAM Rebel, which features an aggressive, no nonsense blacked out grill and side mirrors.  Delmonico Red is a new no-charge addition to the Rebel family of colors.

RAM trucks is promoting new colors, new aesthetic options and a new RAM Rebel—their increasingly recognized off-road edition among its 1500 series.

What is a ZEV? And Will YOU Soon Drive One?

The world is changing and there are new acronyms to learn.   In recent years, sales of plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs) including plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) and battery electric vehicles (BEVs) have begun to accelerate.  BEVs are also ZEVs—Zero-emission vehicles.  Traditional, or internal combustion engines, are now being referred to as ICE vehicles.


Versatile, Rugged and Luxurious, Jeep Moves to Retain Its Share in a Segment Hotspot

by Nick Smirnis

Often times, you’ll read about segments of the American car market and how they’re sliced up in this column. You’ll find out who competes with who in the decades-old shooting match between segment leaders and new arrivals looking to stake their claim. The full-sized truck segment of the American market lends itself more to this type of analysis than others.  It is arguably the most competitive and certainly the subject of much study and even more pride.

It’s not due to a lack of willpower, but there is something that trucks don’t do bigger and better than everyone else: sales volume. No, the goliath truck segment comes in second to a wily foe that prefers versatility to brute force….a versatility that no amount of spray-in bed liner can afford its truck and a range of platforms not bound by the words “crew cab” or “extended bed.”  I’m talking about the compact SUV segment that comfortably outsold the truck segment in Q1 of 2017. Moreover, they outsold their own 2016 numbers in Q1 by an astonishing 9%. In light of these numbers, and while FCA Group continues to tout its RAMs, it’s no surprise that the Jeep brand, its own cousin under the FCA umbrella, has a renewed focus on expanding its relative success in the segment.


Carpool Cool

How many seats do you need?  How much cargo will you carry? How does one vehicle stack up against others in the level of gadgetry that your family demands?  Where else will you want to take your family-friendly vehicle besides the city streets?  And last but not least, will your little junior execs and sports stars and their friends find it cool enough?


We’ve selected some family-friendly vehicles that deliver the goods without breaking the bank.  Our price estimates do assume you’ll opt for some of the extras.

3 Rows and Able to Tow in the Mid $30Ks


The 2017 Nissan Pathfinder brings to the table a more powerful V6 engine that produces 24 more horsepower and 19 more pound-feet of torque than its predecessor.  The acceleration improvement plus revised steering and suspension and greater towing capacity (up to 6,000 pounds) are some good reasons to check out the 2017 Pathfinder.  How about an optional all-wheel-drive system that includes a four-wheel lock function and hill-descent controI?  The Pathfinder also received some exterior style modifications and additional creature comforts including a large touchscreen interface.

No Arachnophobia Here! We Love Spiders!

For driving enthusiasts, there’s nothing more exhilarating than taking a spin in a roadster, a.k.a. spider. To get the full experience, you’ll only want to put the top up when you absolutely have to, but you want it to be quick and easy when you do. Whether you pay a little or a lot, spiders are all about speed and performance; luxury and road comfort are usually secondary priorities.



Buyers of the all-new 2018 Alfa Romeo Spider will be able to own another great Italian sports car that garners stares like a Lotus but is expected to start at around $45K.  Yes, the 2018 model is expected to cost less than the current 4C Spider.  And unlike the 4C, which has only been offered in a six-speed dual-clutch automatic, the 2018 will have a 6-speed manual as standard.  The base model should get a rear-wheel drive 2-liter turbocharged inline 4 engine that will bring around 270 horsepower. An automatic as well as an all-wheel-drive system are expected as optional extras.  A 3-liter naturally aspirated or turbocharged V6 good for 300 to 400 horsepower and up to 400 lb-ft of torque are predicted for the higher end models, and a QV model offering even more power is also being discussed.


Monday, May 15, 2017

Meet the Newly Named "Car of Texas"--The 2017 Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio

Photos courtesy of Marshall Tidrick.


2017 CAR OF TEXAS--Alfa Romeo Giulia

The Texas Auto Writers Association (TAWA) gathered for the annual Texas Auto Roundup, presented by the Steel Market Development Institute (SMDI), to drive and evaluate 42 vehicles within 11 categories at the Circuit of the Americas May 5-8. We were among 52 journalists who evaluated vehicles on the Formula 1 racetrack.